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Human error to blame for Donald Trump’s name being inserted into Elton John lyrics in livestream subtitles

By | Published on Wednesday 23 November 2022

Elton John

Elton John hasn’t re-written his song ‘Levon’ to be an ode to the goodness of Donald Trump. You know, if you were wondering. You might have been, if you’re hard of hearing and were watching the recent livestream, on Disney+ earlier this week, of the final show on the US leg of John’s farewell tour at Dodgers Stadium in LA.

Trump’s name appeared in the subtitles for the show at least twice during the live broadcast. The lyrics of Levon were shown to be “He shall be Levon / Donald Trump”, rather than “He shall be Levon / And he shall be a good man”. Later, viewers reported that Trump’s name was shown on screen for around a minute before being removed.

There was speculation – including from TMZ – that this was some sort of hack. Bit of a weird hack, sure. Why would someone want to go to the trouble of hacking into the subtitles of a show just to flash Donald Trump’s name up on screen without context? I mean, once you’re in there, you could put up any political message you wanted. This seems like a waste of effort.

People always assume things are some sort of clever hack though, don’t they? If it happens online and it wasn’t what you expected, it must be a hack. No one ever thinks, “That was weird, I imagine it was some sort of easily explainable human error”. But that’s what it was, sorry to disappoint you.

While Disney+ hasn’t commented, a source “familiar with the situation” explained to Variety that the subtitles were created by a third party service, which transcribes live events using a combination of speech recognition and human input.

Some words and phrases are triggered with special keyboard commands by that human operator. The company involved regularly provides subtitles to live news events, so has Trump’s name in its system, and it was for this reason that the ex-President’s name kept appearing by mistake.

Case closed. No one was hacked. Of course, regular users of subtitles will be aware that errors such as this often occur. Sometimes due to human error, such as this case, sometimes due to speech recognition going awry.

My favourite such error – as I’m sure you all want to know – was during some BBC drama years ago, when at the emotional peak of the programme, the leading man got down on one knee, looked lovingly into his girlfriend’s eyes, opened a small box containing an engagement ring and announced, “William merry meat”.